The Prowler (1951 film)

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The Prowler
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoseph Losey
Produced bySam Spiegel
Screenplay byDalton Trumbo (uncredited)
Hugo Butler (a front for Trumbo)
Story byRobert Thoeren
Hans Wilhelm
StarringVan Heflin
Evelyn Keyes
Music byLyn Murray
CinematographyArthur C. Miller
Edited byPaul Weatherwax
Horizon Pictures
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 25, 1951 (1951-05-25) (United States)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Prowler is a 1951 thriller film noir directed by Joseph Losey that stars Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes.[1] The film was produced by Sam Spiegel (as S.P. Eagle) and was written by Dalton Trumbo.[2] Because Trumbo was blacklisted at the time, the screenplay was credited to his friend, screenwriter Hugo Butler, as a front.[3]


Webb Garwood (Van Heflin), a disgruntled cop, is called to investigate a voyeur by Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes). Her husband works nights as an overnight radio personality. Webb falls in love with the young and attractive married woman.

Obsessed, he woos her despite her initial reluctance and the two begin an adulterous affair. Webb finds out about an insurance policy on the husband's life. He dreams up a scheme in which a phantom "prowler" would be a good scapegoat if Susan's husband should happen to die mysteriously. After becoming a prowler himself, Webb "investigates" and then commits the murder, making it look like a tragic accident in which he and the husband shot at each other, each suspecting the other of being the prowler. Webb's ruse fools a coroner's jury, thanks in part to both Susan and Webb testifying that they didn't know each other prior to her husband's death. Susan initially suspects Webb of foul play, but becomes convinced of his innocence and subsequently marries him.

Shortly after the wedding, Susan informs Webb that she has been pregnant for four months. This is problematic because the date of the child's conception would prove the two had lied in their testimony to cover up their previous relationship and would thus suggest that Webb's killing of Susan's husband had not been an accident. The two run away to a ghost town named Calico to have the baby without anyone back home knowing. Susan goes into premature labor and Webb finds a doctor, Dr. William James (Wheaton Chambers). Susan realizes that Webb intends to kill Dr. James to preserve their secret, so she warns the doctor who then escapes with the newborn.

Susan tells Webb that she knows what he had planned to do and that she now realizes that he intentionally murdered her husband. Realizing the doctor will send the police after him, Webb drives away, leaving his wife in Calico alone. On the way out of town, he finds the road blocked by his former partner on the police force who was coming to pay a visit. While attempting to get around his friend's car, Webb sees several police cars coming so he heads for the hills on foot. He refuses to stop and a sheriff's deputy shoots him dead.



Critical response[edit]

Critical reception for the film has been mostly positive.[4]

In a contemporary review, The New York Times noted "an impressive drama."[5]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film, writing, "A neat noir thriller that has a slight variation on the Double Indemnity theme, this time it is the guy who is the seducer. This is a Joseph Losey American film, made before his self-exile from the 1950s HUAC witch hunt days when he fled to England. It is the director's aim to highlight social issues and class differences. They will play a major role in the motif, adding to the usual noir ones of dark character and sexual misconduct. Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted writer, is the uncredited cowriter of the script."[6]

Leonard Maltin awarded the film 3 out of a possible 4 stars, praising its camerawork and production design and calling the film "Unusually nasty and utterly unpredictable".[7]


  1. ^ "The Prowler (1951) - Joseph Losey - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  2. ^ "The Prowler (1950)".
  3. ^ Arnold, Jeremy. "The Prowler: Home Video Review". TCM. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  4. ^ "The Prowler (Cost of Living )".
  5. ^ "Unusual Drama Opens at Criterion".
  6. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 2, 2000. Accessed: July 8, 2013.
  7. ^ Jonathan Harchick (28 October 2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide: Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. Createspace Independent Pub. ISBN 978-1-4936-2083-8.

External links[edit]